The growth of “online tombs” and other memorial sites for the dead on the Internet is not necessarily replacing traditional graves in Japan, although it is changing beliefs and practices about ancestor worship, writes Fabienne Duteil-Ogata in the Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet (No. 8, 2015). Since the 1990s, funeral practices have become increasingly diverse in Japan, one example being the number of the “computer tombs” going online. Ogata finds that there are various kinds of computer tombs. One kind, started by Buddhist monks, still has a physical component at the Buddhist temple but individual memories and information about the deceased are stored in a virtual space accessible by password. Because these tombs fall into the category of collective tombs, and no heir is assigned for veneration or upkeep, they do not involve ancestor worship. Post-mortem rituals resemble more a remembrance service than a religious ceremony. Although associated with the Buddhist temple, these computer tombs use secular imagery, such as landscapes, and make little direct reference to Buddhism.
More recent are the virtual online tombs, with no rituals performed on the subscribers’ behalf. Less popular than that, subscribers to the virtual tomb, called Cyberstone, only have access to a personalized homepage. Although launched by a monk, the religious component of Cyberstone has “completely disappeared… Buddhism plays the part of IT-manager or webmaster,” Ogata writes. “But users of all these computer tombs continue to visit offline graves, especially during the ritual…Online practices are thus added to offline practices, but have not replaced them,” she concludes.
(Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet, http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/religions/)